« Diffraction, Caustics and Null Hypotheses | Home | I Want One of Those »

March 12, 2009

Sleep Weirdnesses

I'm having a somewhat sleep-deprived week.  Staying up all night on Saturday night to help with the lighting for a show at the ADC Theatre, more of the same in the evenings, and getting up as early as I can (which admittedly isn't very early) to work on the thesis during the days.  And then doing thesis / other work stuff in my spare time during the evenings as well.  It seems like an appropriate time to write about sleep disorders.

The usual proviso about my not being a psychologist applies, but I find the science of sleep quite interesting.  When you're asleep, your conscious mind is disconnected from your muscles so that you don't act out the things you dream.  When this goes wrong, you aren't properly "unplugged", and you end up sleepwalking.  I did that once or twice when I was about 12: it felt a bit like I drowsily woke up and tried to start doing all the things I would normally have done in the morning, before realising that it was about 4am and I should still be asleep, so getting back into bed.  I woke up, thought that I'd only dreamt it, but I had my trousers and socks on having put them on in my sleep.

The other way it can go wrong is sleep paralysis.  This is essentially the opposite of sleepwalking, and happens to me quite often - around once or twice every month.  You wake up, but can't move a single muscle.  It's very similar to waking up very early in the morning with huge muscle weakness, but much more profound.  A quite scary thing is that things like breathing are still being controlled unconsciously, so although you're still breathing fine you feel like you can't breathe at all.  After a few times of it happening I understood what was going on, but usually I'm too drowsy at the time to really have a clue what's happening to me at the time.

If you've ever heard stories of alien abductions, people often describe exactly this kind of paralysis.  Apparently some people see mysterious shapes or other things like that, but I've never experienced that.  A few hundred years ago, people would report that they'd been visited by a witch or demon.  These days, it's an alien abduction.  Hmmm.

A final weirdness is lucid dreaming - when you dream, but are aware that you're dreaming.  I haven't experienced this in a particularly clear sense, but sometimes I realise I'm dreamining while the dream is still going on, just before waking.  A kind of "Oh, this is a nice dream.  It'd be a shame if I woke up right now" moment between waking and sleeping, just long enough to perceive as the dream slips away and daytime takes over.

Leave a comment